I was sitting on the beach recently with my childhood friend Ana*. We were both freshly single and bitter. Both our men of the month had left us for their exes. Seriously, did they get a transatlantic memo? We were reading and enjoying the late afternoon rays when an old man approached us. He had vacationed in the bay we grew up in for the past forty years. He was an acquaintance of our families and so to be polite we struck up a conversation with him. We talked about how bad the economy was, how scared we both were to graduate in a time with no jobs. He was as frustrated as we were with the current system. The small talk quickly turned heavier for me. He started talking about love. I had personally been going through all kinds of rethinking of self, fate and my luck. I could not make sense of my last failed relationship or how I would ever construct a successful one. The old man then said something that will haunt me forever. He said:
“Well you know girls, I got married at 23. I’ve been with my wife for upwards of fifty years. Even for that time, I was young to be getting hitched. My mother asked me if I was sure I wanted to make such a commitment so early and I told her, ‘Mother, if I don’t marry her now and stay myself for another 4-5 years, I will never marry.’ I mean, it is hard enough to get used to sharing your time with someone when you’re young. Imagine now? I’m so stubborn; I can barely stand myself. I could never expect a woman to want to accommodate me. That’s why it’s better to get hitched young, because you have more patience, and willingness for compromise. My wife and I were so happy and peaceful for most of our marriage. The hardest part was a few years back, when we retired. We had all this time to cultivate our individualities and discovered we are very different people. Yet we knew how to make room for each other and continue to love.”
Wow. Two things immediately moved into my heart and mind. First, will I ever know a love like this? Second, is it too late for me? I have been living alone, far away from family or any kind of selfless responsibility for over 5 years. I am so set in my ways. It made me think. Are we setting ourselves up for failure cultivating individualism and expecting romance? Are the two utterly incompatible? My naturally evolving 5-year-plans have always involved my career, geographic locations and more general happiness of self. They changed a little bit with age, because as a woman, your biological clock start ticking and it has a voice. I am finishing my bachelor this year. If I take a year off to work and then start my masters, I will be done at twenty-six. That is when I am going to start my career. It all sounds so perfect to my twenty-three year old self. Then the voice starts: Yes, well do you want to start having children early? You don’t want to be one of those old moms, plus you know you want at least two, etc. I have always known I want children in my life. I am continuously described as motherly. I am the one who takes care of people in my group of friends. My roommate calls me mom. At the same time, why did I just spend a hundred grand on my bachelors if I am not even going to have an exceptional career? You see, everything is so selfish and self-centered. My reflections revolve around me. How another person is going to fit into this mess baffles me.
The old man spoke the truth, so loudly. Both Ana and I giggled, knowing that our only other option would be to cry. The two of us said our goodbyes shortly after and proceed to drink two bottles of wine. We tried to get it all out, the advice, the heartache. We sat and complained for hours about simply wanting a guy to be normal. We were not asking for much, were we? Still at one moment, the old man’s words resonated in both our heads. Were we being hypocrites? Were we pretending that all we wanted was someone to be there, but then when someone was we felt suffocated? Are we choosing them? All of these incapacitating thoughts just magically appear. So you take another sip, and then a very long sigh. We did not have to say it, we knew. Her and I are similar when it comes to love. And I do not mean to say that everyone is like this; I cannot even begin to generalize about such things. Yet when I am in love, I know it. I know it is true and real. And when I feel that, nothing is too hard. Nothing is too far, too long, too impossible. It is an incredible feeling that takes me, at the deepest of my guts, in the dark, secret corners of my soul.
The reason Ana and I did not need to discuss this is because we both knew how rarely it happened to us and how unfair life is. She could see in my eyes I was too weak to withstand this reality. I had fallen in love and it had been taken away from me, like a rug from under me, making me crumble to my feet violently, crashing onto concrete. The plan revolves around me. The reality is very different. Plans are useless, actually. You know that cheesy cliché line: life is what happens while you’re busy making plans. Well, it is cliché because it is true. I think the old man’s words are true. I think that is why we fear our own hypocrisy. We realize we complain about being afraid to let people in, and then we are afraid to let them out. We miss and hate a person at the same time. Ana and I took another sip, looking at each other.
Is it possible to miss a step somewhere and miss out on everything? Can it all be just bad timing? If I am capable of love, but the men I meet are not or are not capable of it for me, can it all be because I skipped a beat? If I planned everything correctly, did everything right, should I not be getting something in return? Of course I am not expecting anything to fall in my lap; I am willing to work so hard. As I write this, it all sounds so guilt absolving. I am not trying to say that nothing is my fault and that I never did anything wrong in my life. That is far from the truth. I am just trying to understand what it is I am supposed to learn from this last tragic fall. That there are fickle people in the world? That nothing that feels too good to be true ever is?
When he started talking about her, I knew, I felt it. His tone was different; he smiled more. He denied it time and time again. When he finally saw it, said it, it knocked the life out of me. He was not just leaving me for her; he was in love with her. This reality of his love for me being fake or lesser was the epitome of brutality. I knew it. I felt it. Just like I had felt it with John. I never liked one of his coworkers. I never trusted her. The last few months of our relationship he spent sleeping with her. Both these men have plenty of female friends and exes. I was never jealous about anyone else but those two women who ended up fucking up my life. My instincts are still telling me that they wanted to screw me, that both of them were manipulative bitches. My heart tells me: who the fuck cares? It’s the men in your life that are not worthy. There are always going to manipulative bitches in the world.
Maybe there is no lesson to be learned. Maybe I will always see the red flags and love will keep me blind. Maybe my female intuition is more about telling you she was right, not helping. I can understand how that could be frustrating to men. I am learning how to take each hit as it comes. I am learning how to stand up again and keep trusting that I will know a love like the old man’s. I am also learning that beautiful things do happen in this world. My timing, however bad, never bores me, whatever that is worth. That may even be the lesson: learning, always and everywhere. That weekend Ana introduced me to a man, who for a day, accepted me and “loved” me in that moment, for everything that I was. I told him my secrets; I let him into my fucked up head. He smiled and embraced me. It was magical in its sincerity and genuineness. I keep learning and loving the people in my life, for whatever they bring me. Each smile of mine, I dedicate to them.